When Canada’s national U23 rowing team spent a day training at Brentwood College School last weekend, it marked a homecoming for Martin Barakso.
The 2012 Brentwood grad, who recently wrapped up his academic and athletic career at Princeton University, got the chance to return to his alma mater and once again row in the waters of the Saanich Inlet. He took a moment to reflect on the part the school played in his success.
“I have to give a lot of credit to Brentwood,” Barakso said. “I lived here for four years, and I learned a lot. Everyone is so supportive in helping me realize my goals and getting to the next level when you’re here.”
Barakso spent one year with his hometown Nanaimo Rowing Club before starting at Brentwood in Grade 9. His four years at Brentwood were full of success, including winning the gold medal in the junior men’s single at the Canadian Secondary School Rowing Association championships in 2010.
That led to more success at Princeton, where he helped the Tigers crew return to respectability. This last school year, Princeton had its most successful rowing season since 1998, finishing as the second best team in the U.S. behind the University of California. Barakso’s own men’s eight placed third at nationals and second at the Eastern championships.
“It was good to end on a high note,” he said. “When we got there as freshmen, the team wasn’t very good. But we kept chipping away. We started at seventh in the country and moved up. It was a good run.”
Barakso, who turns 22 next month, graduated in May with a history degree, and is spending this summer training for the World U23 championships in Rotterdam, Netherlands at the end of August.
“It’s been good so far,” he said. “We’ve been together seven weeks now, and we’ve made a lot of progress. We’re out there every day pushing each other. It’s good.”
The Canadian men’s team in Rotterdam will include a coxed four, straight four and quad, with Barakso taking a seat in the straight four.
“It’s a really fun boat to row,” he said. “It’s really fast without the cox.”
Canadian U23 head coach Howie Campbell likes his team’s chances of bringing home some medals from the Netherlands.
“We’ve got a pretty solid team,” he said. “It should be a pretty interesting world championships. You always go expecting to medal. It depends on the day. There will be some other good crews there with the same intention, but I think we’ll be in the hunt for sure.”
The three boats include some very gifted athletes, Campbell noted.
“It’s a good group of guys to work with,” he said. “They are quick studies and physically capable of challenging for the podium.
“All the guys bring a lot of athletic abilities and Martin is definitely one of the guys with that talent. He was also at the senior worlds last year with the men’s pair, so he brings that experience, knowing how fast it is out there on the senior circuit. It’s not all that much slower on the U23 circuit.”
Each of the last three summers, Barakso has rowed with at least one different boat. In 2014, it was the coxed four. In 2015, he rowed in the men’s eight at the Pan Am championships and the pair at the senior worlds. He and teammate Michael Evans placed 12th at worlds last year. One spot ahead would have qualified their boat for the Olympics. Making the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo is now a firm goal, and Barakso has moved to Victoria to train with that in mind.
“I’ll keep racing for a few years and do it next time,” he said.